10/19/2017 by Carney Sandoe Staff | Conferences
Why I Loved Working at a Boarding School- part 1
Boarding schools get a bad rap in the movies and on TV, but their portrayal on the big screen couldn't be anything farther from the truth. Just as someone who attended or worked at a boarding school can attest to, these institutions are truly special, unique, and transformative–for both students and teachers–places to live and work. Don't know anyone who falls into either of those categories? Lucky for you, some of our CS&A staff members have spent significant time at boarding schools prior to joining our firm. Ahead of our boarding school hiring conference that will be held in conjunction with the TABS (The Association of Boarding Schools) annual conference in Boston on December 6, 2019, we asked our staffers to share their experiences.
First up is a staff member who worked as a math teacher in a boarding school right here in Massachusetts before joining CS&A.
Diana “DZ” Zito
Which school did you teach at?
I taught at Fay School in Southborough, MA. It is a coed, day and boarding school for students in kindergarten through grade 9, though boarding begins in seventh grade.
What drew you to the boarding school environment?
In the beginning, it was because I’ve always been drawn to strong communities and shared experiences. To me, there is not much better than working with a group of people you adore to accomplish a common task, which is what I got to do every day at Fay. What kept me there was that I enjoyed the level of deep connections I was able to develop with students while seeing so many facets of their personalities and lives. I was able to teach them in the classroom, coach them on the sports field, eat dinner with them in the dining hall, and just hang out with them in the dorm. In turn, they got to see me more as a “person” because they saw all sides of me. Even though students always called me Ms. Zito, I always used to say, “I feel like “Ms. Zito” in the classroom, “Diana” on the playing field, and “DZ” in the dorm.”
What subject did you teach?
I taught middle school grade 6 math, Pre-Algebra, and Algebra. I also coached softball and basketball, lived in the dorm, and worked part-time in admissions. In my “outside life” I also worked with a theater company, so I would often informally get involved with the spring musical and other theater events throughout the year. Like at most independent schools, you always wear many hats…life was never dull!
Did you live in the dorms when you worked there?
People are often shocked when I say that living in the dorms with middle school girls was my absolute favorite part of the job, but it’s the truth. I cherished being able to create a culture where girls felt safe to talk about anything, where they learned to be leaders, where they learned to turn to each other. It definitely got easier every year as I became more confident in my abilities, but also as the dorm culture formed. Over the nine years I lived in one dorm, so many traditions were cultivated and so many strong bonds were formed. Having the girls learn to take care of each other, learn about life together, share their happy moment and sad moments, and learn about what they wanted to do after college gave me so much joy. In the classroom I shaped minds, but in the dorm I shaped people and, ultimately, that most closely aligned with why I got into the profession and is why I found so much satisfaction in the work.
How did your choice to live in the dorms impact your experience as a teacher and as a person?
Fay was my first teaching job. I went straight from undergrad to graduate school, and straight from grad school to Fay. It was a lot to “bite off” for a first gig and, I’m not going to lie, it was stressful at times. Like most first-year teachers, tears were not uncommon. But, I never cried from stress in the dorm. It was where I was most comfortable, always. I’ve said it so many times throughout the years, but if it weren’t for working in the dorm, I’m not sure I would have stayed a second year. I was 24 years old when I started in the dorm and with no children of my own, I didn’t fully understand the responsibility I was given. The job taught me to care more deeply about people, to be more empathetic, and to be more accepting. One of my dorm daughters wrote a note to me in my final week at the school, and in it she wrote, “From you, I discovered for the first time how deep a person can love ten supposed strangers. Now, we are no longer strangers because of your acceptance. We are a family because of you.” To say that living in a dorm changed my life is by no means an understatement.
What kind of teacher thrives in the boarding school environment?
You need to be an “all in” type of person, no doubt about it. Lines of personal and professional are often blurred. You will get called at midnight to have to drive a kid to the hospital, you will have to periodically give up your weekends, and there’s even a good chance that you will be dealing with bloody noses and students getting sick on you. But, somehow, it seems normal when you’re a boarding school person because you’ve got a hundred colleagues with whom to trade “war stories.” The weekends thing can be hard, but one of my colleagues said in my first year, “I’d hope that, even if I wasn’t required to do it, I would spend one weekend a month volunteering with kids.” That set the stage for my time in a boarding school.
What is your fondest memory of your time there?
Tough question, in terms of narrowing it to a single memory! While a lot of my favorites relate to students, this one speaks more to the camaraderie among faculty. Every year, after the last student leaves, the faculty informally get together. A come-if-you-can type thing, where everyone was invited. Interestingly, the year after I left, some of my friends told me to swing by. It happened to be this beautiful June evening, and folks brought down their grills, lawn chairs, dogs, kids, guitars, banjos, and favorite beverages. The festivities started around 5:00 p.m. in the school’s courtyard, but later migrated across campus to the fire pit. Organically, we just wandered around from person to person, reliving the year and celebrating our 10 weeks of duty-free, comment-free living. We sang songs, laughed, cried, and reminisced. I so vividly remember feeling so a part of everything, despite not having worked there that year. The relationships that form among the faculty are so multifaceted and deep; it is truly its own version of family.
Interested in working at a boarding school? If you're a current CS&A candidate, talk to your Placement Team about attending CS&A@TABS on December 6, 2019 in Boston, where we'll be welcoming boarding schools from across the nation who are looking to find top qualified candidates.
Not a current candidate with CS&A? Apply today to gain access to all our hiring conferences.
Wendy Morrison 5/24/2019 at 2:48am
I taught and lived at a boarding school for about 15 years. There were a lot of wonderful moments and I am glad I had the experience and offered my students the challenge and the support that helped them achieve and evolve into young adults. I do believe there should be more professional support for teachers going into this very demanding and sometimes unhealthy environment. Most of the research and articles online are about the quality of life for the boarding school student. Hardly anything tackles the complexities of a teacher’s experience, from the way that the 24/7 world of boarding school impacts the personal lives, to the effects on a teacher’s mental/physical health, family dynamics and financial/professional security. It can be a very lonely and isolating experience to be struggling with these real issues and to have so few personal and professional resources to help manage the challenges. The kids always come first, of course, but the adults matter too.